At roughly the same time Tuesday that the New Orleans Pelicans were publicly unveiling their brand-new marketing and promotional campaign for the 2019-20 season, David Griffin stood behind a podium and began explaining what “Won’t Bow Down” means to the franchise. In a darkened New Orleans Rock ‘N’ Bowl dining area, a 30-second commercial played behind Griffin, partly touching on the city’s grit and long-standing ability to persevere through adversity.
“This is a statement of who we are, so that everyone from the outside can look at us and determine, ‘Am I made to be a part of that or not?’ ” Griffin said, alluding to NBA players’ decisions on where to play. “Because not everyone’s made to be a part of this, and that’s OK. We’re comfortable with that. If sex appeal is your thing and you need a big market, OK. See you later. If doing something meaningful for people who care about supporting their teams every day (is important), this is something you’re going to want to be a part of. This is supposed to start laying the groundwork and send that message.”
From Day 1 of Griffin’s tenure as Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations, he and the Pelicans have channeled their focus and energy toward embracing New Orleans in any way possible. Griffin referenced the team’s three first-round picks – led by Nickeil Alexander-Walker, just 20 years old but the oldest of the group – who’ve gone on a veritable tour of South Louisiana in recent weeks. The trio has attended college football games at LSU and Tulane, as well as played pickup hoops at the University of New Orleans.
“It’s been incredible. Nickeil is sort of the ringleader of our young guys,” Griffin said, speaking at a Greater New Orleans Quarterback Club luncheon. “You’ve seen that our ‘recruiting class’ – as they call themselves – has been a little bit of everywhere in the community. They want to be part of the fabric of what New Orleans is. They’re reflective of that. You’ve seen our veterans be reflective of that. They understand that winning in New Orleans is going to be more meaningful than it could’ve been anywhere else.”
Griffin joked to the audience that he has also dived headfirst into Crescent City culture – or perhaps “stomach-first” would be a better way to put it.
“We want to embody (the city),” Griffin said, smiling. “I gained 18 pounds from May 1 until Aug. 1, and I was (out of town) the entire month of July. So I did a lot of work in a very short period of time getting to know this city, and the restaurants, and the wine in this city. It’s a beautiful place in that sense. I spent a lot of time also getting to learn the culture and meeting people. We are learning and giving of ourselves, and we want our players to do that. So everything we do from an advertising perspective is going to be modeling that. We want to build a team in the ethos of the city we represent.”
The longtime member of NBA front offices, previously in Phoenix and Cleveland, noted that he spoke with a total of seven NBA teams before deciding to join the Pelicans. A major factor that convinced him to pick New Orleans was Owner Gayle Benson, who emphasized how important the city is in how she wants to lead the Pelicans and the NFL’s Saints.
“She was the seventh billionaire I met with,” Griffin said, alluding to him meeting with sports owners to discuss front-office openings. “Seven billionaires had the opportunity to say that they wanted to win for the people of their community, but not one did that (except) Mrs. Benson. She was the only person who is in and of the fabric of the city first – that’s all she wants to be.
“We are caretakers of a sacred trust for everyone here. Every player that comes here is going to know that. This place is different. It’s a lot different. And it’s not for everybody… But if you care about something real and care about something substantive, this city is going to speak to you.”